Compilational Reading: Richard Osbarn and Huntington Library MS HM 114
Huntington Library MS 114 contains one of the more unusual versions of PPl, along with a range of other vernacular texts (Mandeville’s Travels, Troilus & Criseyde, the Pistil of Susan, an English translation of the Epistola Luciferi ad Cleros, and an excerpt from The Three Kings of Cologne). The entire manuscript was copied by a single scribe whose identity was recently established by Linne Mooney and Estelle Stubbs. Using their research on this scribe, one Richard Osbarn, this article explores the possible reasons for Osbarn’s compilation choices, his methods of copying, and the mise en page in each of the six texts. The evidence suggests that Osbarn initially copied the three large texts – PPl, Mandeville, and Troilus – separately, very likely for his own use or for circulation among his immediate colleagues. However, quire counts on the finished manuscript indicate that the compilation was eventually a purchased product. This article speculates that Osbarn joined the three long texts together in response to a customer’s request, most likely a non-aristocrat lay reader of limited means who wished to have access to a book of popular literature. This kind of reader was part of a growing group in late-medieval London; reading for pleasure was no longer a pastime just for the wealthy and the titled. After choosing these three texts to make up the book he was selling, Osbarn completed the codex by filling in the blank pages at the end of Mandeville and Troilus with shorter texts whose contents complemented or supplemented the longer works. He therefore transformed what were initially his own personal copies of popular Middle English texts into a single book that was both affordable and marketable.
Yearbook of Langland Studies, 28 (2014), 65-104.